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Environmental Sociology

Vanderbilt’s Sociology Department has become one of the country’s leading centers of environmental sociology research and education. Core faculty with an environmental specialty include Joe Bandy, David Hess, Patrick Greiner, and Zdravka Tzankova. In addition, demographer Mariano Sana includes environmental issues in his course on population; and social movements specialist Holly McCammon includes environmental movements in her courses.  The graduate program has several doctoral students who work on or have a partial interest in environmental issues (Ethan Gibbons, Megan Jordan, Ashley Kim, Dasom Lee, and Lacee Satcher). Alumni include Kate Pride Brown, who is an assistant professor at Georgia Tech.


Undergraduate Program in Environmental Sociology

Vanderbilt is home to one of the country’s few programs in environmental sociology. This unique curriculum allows students to focus on environmental sociology with some earth and environmental sciences courses.  The program can also be combined with the interdisciplinary minor in environmental and sustainability studies, which is housed in the Sociology Department. The Program in Environmental and Sustainability Studies connects environmental alumni and maintains an email list that lets students know about job opportunities and campus events. It also provides a list of alumni who can help students with networking and job placement.

The program is still new, and it has had a successful placement with recent alumni. Some recent placements include working on product development at a large corporation with sustainability programs, acceptance at leading PhD programs in sociology, and working in the nonprofit sector.

Students in environmental sociology sometimes undertake study-abroad programs, and some of the programs have especially strong curricula in the environmental area. The program in Denmark is popular, as is the program in New Zealand.


Undergraduate Program of Concentration in Environmental Sociology

Environmental Sociology is the study of the relationship between modern societies and the environment at a variety of scales, from households to global relations. It includes issues such as public understanding of environmental issues, the environment and inequality, environmental social movements and social change, and analysis of environmental reform and adaptation.  Environmental Sociology is different from environmental science, which is based in the natural sciences, and environmental studies, which includes courses from a wide range of disciplines, including engineering and the humanities. The department’s program in Environmental Sociology includes a solid introduction to sociology and sociological methods as well as foundation requirements in environmental science. The program prepares students for careers in government, the law, management, research and teaching, and the nonprofit sector.

Students majoring in Environmental Sociology are required to complete 33 credit hours of coursework. The major consists of four types of course: foundation social science courses, foundation environmental science courses, research skills, and environmental sociology courses.

Environmental sociology at Vanderbilt

The sociology department offers several courses in environmental sociology and courses that cover environmental topics:

  • Soc 1030.  Environment and Society. A general introduction to environmental sociology and the relationship between environment and society.
  • Soc 3311. Climate Change and Society. How are societies responding to climate change? What social factors affect whether or not governments have strong policies to reduce greenhouse gases? How are businesses and governments developing adaptation plans? Taught by Professor David Hess.
  • Soc 3312. Environment and Development. What are the implications for the world’s environment as more and more people drive cars, use electricity, and enter into the “developed” world? How can development occur in a way that is both just and sustainable? Taught by Professor Joe Bandy.
  • Soc 3313. The Sociology of Health and Environmental Science. This course introduces students to strategies for interpreting scientific controversies and cutting through scientific debates. Taught by Professor David Hess.
  • Soc 3314. Environmental Inequality and Justice. How are environmental exposures distributed across lines of race and class? Why has the environmental justice movement become the most vibrant side of the entire environmental movement in the U.S.? Taught by Professor Joe Bandy.
  • Soc 3315. Human Ecology. A broad, international survey of the relationship between human societies and environmental and ecological issues.
  • Soc 3316. Business, Civil Society, and the Environment.  How environmental organizations, consumer organizations, and other civil society organizations interact with the private sector in conflicts and partnerships for environmental issues.
  • Soc 3317. Energy Transitions and Society. A global tour of electricity policy, which is a crucial vehicle for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.  Studies of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, Latin America, and the U.S. and Canada.
  • Soc 3318.  Sociology of Green Jobs.  A survey of the greening of the economy by sector with attention to thinking about and exploring environmentally related jobs. Food, Buildings, Transportation, Electricity, Manufacturing, Recycling, Finance, and other sectors.
  • Soc 3321. Population and Society. Understanding the basics of population is essential for having a broad grasp of environmental issues. Not only is the world’s population continuing to grow, but climate change is beginning to have important effects on migration and immigration patterns. Taught by Professor Mariano Sana.
  • Soc 3604. American Social Movements. How do people organize at a grassroots level to bring about change? What makes movements successful, and what are reasons for failure? This course covers a wide range of topics on social movements, and it includes a section on environmental movements in the U.S. Taught by Professor Holly McCammon.
  • Soc 3613. Law and Society. How does the legal system both contribute to social inequality and help to overcome such inequalities? How does the legal system operate in practice? Courts, lawyers, and the police. This course includes a section on environmental law. Prof. Holly McCammon.
  • ENVS 4101. Seminar in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. This seminar is for minors in Environmental and Sustainability studies but is also open to majors in sociology, and it counts in the sociology curriculum. It provides a broad overview of the field and also gives you an opportunity to write a research paper on a topic that interests you. The research paper can be used in your applications for graduate schools and jobs. Taught by Professor David Hess.


Curriculum for the Undergraduate Major in Environmental Sociology

NOTE: The details of the program vary from year to year. You should consult the Vanderbilt undergraduate catalog for the exact details of the program for the year when you entered Vanderbilt. The Director of Undergraduate Studies can provide variances for some courses, including transfer courses.

Program I (Standard Track)
A total of at least 33 credit hours as follows:


(1) Foundation Courses in Sociology 6 credit hours

  • SOC 1020 or 1020W or SOC 1030
  • SOC 3001

(2) Foundation Courses in Environmental Sciences at least 6 credit hours

  • Two courses from EES 1510, 1030, 1070, 1080, 1140, 1111, ** 2110, * 2510, * 2150 , 3220, * 4680, * 4750, * 4820; * at least one of which must address climate-related issues
  • EES 1080, 1140, 2110,* 2510,* 2150, 4680,* 4820,* or another EES course as approved by the DUS of Environmental Sociology.

*Requires EES 1510 and the lab EES 1510L as prerequisites.
**1111s require permission of the Director of Environmental Sociology.

(3) Research Skills 6 credit hours

  • SOC 2100 (or other statistics course approved by the DUS of Environmental Sociology) followed by or concurrent with
  • SOC 3002 or HOD 2500 for those majoring in HOD

(4) Environmental Sociology Core 15 credit hours

  • 15 credit hours selected from the following:
    SOC 3311, 3312, 3313, 3314, 3315, 3316, 3317, 3318, 3319, 3321, 3604, 3605, 3881,* 3880,* 4981;* ENVS 4101; *ENVS 4101W
    (*as approved by the DUS of Environmental Sociology)

Program II (Honors Research Track in Environmental Sociology)

A total of at least 36 credit hours as follows:

The Honors Research Track offers superior majors in Environmental Sociology the opportunity to pursue intensive work through an independent research project. Students interested in pursuing the Honors Research Track in Environmental Sociology should contact the DUS of Sociology for more information. To be considered for the Honors Research Track in Environmental Sociology, a student must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.3 and a minimum GPA of 3.3 for courses that count toward the Environmental Sociology major. Students who are recommended for the program by the DUS of Sociology will typically begin the program in the first semester of their junior or senior year.

The Honors Research Track in Environmental Sociology requires:
1. Successful completion of requirements 1 through 3 in the Standard Track, for a total of at least 18 credit hours.
2. At least 12 credit hours from requirement 4 in the Standard Track.
3. Successful completion of at least two semesters of SOC 4981 (Honors Research). The first semester of 4981 (Honors Research) is a 3 credit hour seminar in which students develop the literature review and research plan for the honors thesis. In the second semester of 4981 (Honors Research), also for 3 credit hours, students must complete the research and data collection, data analysis, and initial write-up of results of the thesis. Students may elect to take a third or fourth semester of 4981 during their senior year, when they may, for example, work on revisions of the project and/or on publication. Students who begin the Honors Program in their senior year may also take more than 6 credit hours of 4981, up to a maximum of 12 credit hours.
4. Successful defense of the completed thesis through an oral defense attended by the chair and reader of the thesis; this oral defense typically takes place during the second semester of the student’s senior year. In order to earn honors in Environmental Sociology, students must successfully complete and defend an honors thesis before graduation.

Comprehensive Exam
In order to graduate with an Environmental Sociology major, students must take a comprehensive exam during their senior year. The exam is not graded, and no grade will appear on the student’s transcript. The purpose of the exam is to test the extent to which majors are retaining core aspects of the Environmental Sociology curriculum.


Contact: Shaul Kelner, Director of Undergraduate Studies